Star Wars: Battlefront II review
Flying and Jumping to Greater Heights
Star Wars: Battlefront II was a highly anticipated sequel following the big splash the original made. Providing large-scale battles reliving everyone’s favourite conflicts and settings of the films, the Battlefront series offers up something different from the usual “here’s your super powerful character, now go save the galaxy” scenario. And this sequel offers two new elements that got all the fan kids and guys that still live with their mum in the basement squealing: space battles and the ability to use hero characters. Despite this, it does raise the question of whether the game can avoid the lure of being stale, with only two films of extra content between the two titles to add.
The game controls as well as its predecessor, all running off your standard shooter layout. You get the pleasure of being able to switch between first- and third-person, depending on your playing preference. You can also issue commands to other troopers to great effect with some practice, such as stationing them in strategic locations or telling them to follow you and provide cover fire (Technically this means draw the fire away from you.). Vehicle controls are also quite smooth, with particular mention going to ships for the fun of using a barrel roll at just the right moment to avoid a homing missile.
Your story for the game, the campaign mode titled Rise of the Empire sees you playing through a series of film-inspired scenarios. Fighting as part of the 501st Company, you’ll be playing under the persona of a clone from their defence of the Republic to their service to the Empire. Giving you objectives to complete, it turns the battles into a process of achieving goals as much as a good death tally. Having said this, the objectives are pretty unimaginative and really just come down to the most basic of goals such as “go destroy this, this and this” which ends up just making battles more winded than they have to be, rather than an enjoyable addition to the action. This mode is rather hit-and-miss as, although getting to immerse yourself in a story pertaining to the films is fun, the monotonous objectives are not, which simply seek to encourage you to play other modes of the game. It’s much easier to cut out the middle man and just go play another mode, which is a sad but strong truth.
In terms of singleplayer however, one cannot go past the brilliant mode known as Galactic Conquest. Picking one of the four factions, you’re given an overworld map of the galaxy and its encompassed planets with connecting lines showing where you may move. The map runs off a TBS, with each faction getting to move their army one space per turn. When landing on a hostile planet or ship, you will then engage in a respective battle on the ground or in space. To turn the tide of battle you can use points generated through said battles to buy different powers such as extra troops or the ability to constantly heal, or new types of troops you can unlock – although this system is somewhat broken by the Garrison bonus, as long as you have a heart and don’t spam it you’ll find these little extras to battles a lot of fun to play around with. Finding the balance here is key and just one different decision can make for a very different campaign. It’s more or less your instant action except with powers and a little strategy, but it works and will see a lot of replay value in the title for you. In fact, forget the previously mentioned mode and just play this one – you won’t regret it, and it reflects what the Battlefront series is all about: quick, fast-paced battles on a large scale with minimum fuss and everything to gain.
Okay, there are some other brand new modes worth mentioning: Capture the Flag, Hunt Mode, Hero Assault and XL. Hunt Mode pits two factions together in pivotal Star Wars moments (e.g. Ewoks vs. Scout Troopers.) and although enjoyable thematically, can sometimes be seen as somewhat unbalanced through its specificity. In Hero Assault it pits a team of good main characters vs. a team of evil main characters on Mos Eisley and really lets the player sink their teeth into enjoying said characters without the hindrance of their usual fragility that one would suffer by in other modes. Then XL as the name suggests is again like Assault and can be played on Geonosis, Hoth and Kashyyk. It offers the opportunity for longer battles through a much greater total of troops at your disposal. All these options are fun in their own way, but Instant Action and Galactic Conquest is definitely where the real replay value of the title lies.
So apart from these, what else do you have to look forward to in ways of spicing up the series? The first major addition to the Battlefront formula, space battles, is in your face from the moment you start up the game. Offering a video tutorial on how space battles work, Battlefront II wastes no time in showing off what it feels is its major selling point. Yet the notion is not entirely without reason; fighting in space can be fun, and adds a new level of depth to playing with vehicles, as well as an expansion of the possibilities of how to win a battle. On the one hand you’ve got your ship vs. ship scenario (On top of your usual scrum of guys on the capital ships.), offering up fast and enjoyable dogfights; the other hand consists of crippling the capital ship, which can be done in two ways. The first of these will see you employing bombing runs (unless you enjoy spending several hours destroying one system), seeing you destroy vital parts of the ship from the outside. The other is to land inside their docks and begin tearing through their systems with every explosive you can get your little mitts on. With a decent variety of ships for each faction and the multitude of ways to win, space battles offer up some new fun on the battlefront.
Having said this, space battles can quickly fall into the ever waiting net of monotony. With each side starting with their large capital ship and perhaps a few smaller gunships to protect it, the playing field changes very little and destroying vital parts of a ship from the outside becomes jaded far before you’ve finished destroying just a couple. Most of your deaths on these maps will be out of nowhere from one of the bajillion turrets sat on the main ships, and the steering on the ships you get to pilot just isn’t as tight as I’d like it to be. As far as novelties go space battles are a lot of fun, but it’d take a Battlefront III to perfect them (How’s that for big wishing?) and drag them away from the same pitfall that plagues the campaign mode.
Meanwhile, back down on the surface, our entertainment consists of the opportunity to use hero characters – it’s just a shame that nine times out of ten they don’t justify their price. From the cheeky Hans Solo to the slow and purposeful Emperor, different maps offer up the opportunity to play with various distinctive characters of the four factions. Yet the fun of playing with your favourite characters soon wears off once you see your kill-to-death ratio decreasing. Despite being able to regain ammo the same way as a normal unit your health is another, much darker matter. The only way to heal yourself is by a smidgen for every kill. Arguably it’s great on some levels, but a waste of time on others; having your life dependent on your ability to mass-slaughter is dictated to you by the map you’re playing and how lucky you get with your strafing, because heroes can often be a glass cannon, and in all honesty I prefer to just stick to regular units unless playing a map stuffed with narrow corridors. It’s understandable that they’ve done this in an attempt to keep the game from being broken, but instead it simply detracts from the new feature. The pen is mightier than the sword, and the gun is mightier than the Lightsaber.
That’s not to say I feel it’s worth too much complaint. Sure it dampens the experience of playing with them and puts a dark spot on them compared to their console brothers who get the biggest slice of the ham, but then where is the focus going to? Well the focus is going to the regular trooper, and that in itself is at least worthy of being commended. The shift of spotlight from vehicles and heroes gives more importance to those who truly make the Battlefront series, our humble soldier. Unlike the original Battlefront, the sequel doesn’t provide you with an easy 80+ kill tally by popping your ass down in a giant mechanical machine of death. Battlefront II encourages the player to enjoy all facets of the game, but specifically engaging with the various troop types on offer. There’s a nice balance to be had here, including some extra special troop additions since the original. Getting to play as a Bothan Spy or Chaingun-wielding Clone is a lot of fun, and these unique units bring extra strategy and scenarios into the mix with them.
There are also rewards and pickups on the battlefield to help swing things in your favour. For example, generating enough kills with your rifle will give you an upgraded, more powerful version. Your ability in battles may also reward you with titles, which along with such things as your total kill count may be viewed at your convenience after the conclusion of a fight. These then in turn can grant you bonuses, such as the Guardian title rewarding the player with Damage Reduction. Unlike other shooter titles this system remains fun and unbroken, allowing you to gain the upper-hand but with the constant fear of losing it when you die. Plus, it’s fun to look like you’ve dressed up as a radioactive Christmas tree.
Ah, multiplayer. I doubt there’s anyone out there who wouldn’t prefer the PC for this, if only for the lack of split-screen. The community may be dead now, but the multiplayer function for Battlefront II was fantastic back in the day. The only thing better than big battles are big battles full of skilled players, and this goes double for the PC version given the increased accuracy of using a mouse to aim. You get to enjoy all the maps, factions and various game options the game has to offer with your friends – big win in my books. Other Star Wars titles have tended to have pretty poor multiplayer which feels more like a simple add-on than anything else, but Battlefront grabs multiplayer by the horns and chucks it into the unsuspecting crowd - much to their delight of course. If the different singleplayer options aren’t enough for you, or you’re a bit obsessed with multiplayer-orientated games (If you’re a new, modern gamer then put a tick in the box.), Battlefront II will provide.
At first, the graphics don’t seem too much different to the prequel. And yes, sadly the game can tend to generate some lag now and again, which can become a nuisance during pivotal moments. On the whole though they’re functional, and playing the game long enough will bring you to appreciate the finer included details that the previous title lacked. The maps are richer, the characters are given a bit more personality, etc. Though I’m not sure why, but the heroes seemed to miss a bit of the royal treatment of their simpler brethren and their movement can be perceived as rather clunky and even hindered at times. You’d figure the star attraction would be given some extra attention, but it’s not the case. Cut scenes run off all the same stuff, yet somehow manage to look worse for the most part. There’s no denying the vibrancy of the different settings though and how they really build up the world of Star Wars and can often make you feel suddenly interpolated in a scene from one of the films.
You know you’re getting what you pay for when it comes to sound and a Star Wars game. Say hello to a soundtrack stripped directly from the films and shoved into the game for your enjoyment – to be fair though, we all enjoy the compositions so we never really complain, do we? It would be nice to see a greater effort put into creating new tracks though. Meanwhile, the voice acting for the main characters is limited to short phrases, but sounds like the characters they’re supposed to be at least. The only voice acting of any real significance belongs to a character from the 501st in the game’s story mode, although it would seem they got the nationality mixed up if going by the actor for the clones in the films.
Battlefront II is a game which, although having a few areas that could be improved, ultimately remains a highly enjoyable and addictive game. The few additions from the original are, for the most part, a great expansion of the series and a lot of fun. Although at times Battlefront II may not seem like enough change has been made, it’s more a case of “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”. You will get value for your money in Galactic Conquest and multiplayer respectively, and if you’re looking for something different to just being a Jedi going about his business and want to slog it out as a hardened soldier or you’re any level of Star Wars fan, you’ll definitely want to give it a spin. Some small things like the shift of focus away from vehicles makes a huge difference to the core of the game which, at the end of the day, is why we fans love the series and not only keep coming back for more, but keep on wishing for that ever elusive Battlefront III.
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